Media

SocialGood.tv in talks to buy Al Gore’s Current cable network (and move it to Austin, TX)

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Austin, Tex.-based startup SocialGood.TV recently announced its intentions to purchase Current TV, the struggling cable channel led by former Vice President Al Gore and founder Joel Hyatt.

Current launched in 2005 as an Internet user-curated progressive news channel. Originally, the network tried to integrate functionality of community news sharing site Digg with traditional television programming. In late 2009, Current scaled back its online presence to focus on just programing. Over the last year the network, rebranded itself as a left-leaning news channel with prime time political shows hosted by Keith Olberman (no longer will the company), former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, and The View co-host Joy Behar.

Last month, Hyatt confirmed to the NY Post that the network was formally taking steps to put the cable channel up for sale, should the right offer come along. The decision, Hyatt said, came after the network was approached about an acquisition deal on three separate occasions this year. And now it looks like SocialGood.TV could be the first to make a formal offer.

SocialGood.tv is an online video startup focused on driving engagement to worthy causes through its content. The startup’s intent really reminds me of the early days of programming on Current, which was dominated by shows like infoMania, user-curated news show Current Tonight, and its documentary-style journalism series Vangaurd. But SocialGood.tv has been operating in stealth-mode for the last eight months, and only recently decided to pop up on the public radar after hearing news of Current’s potential sale.

“When we heard Current was up for sale, we obviously shifted gears,” SocialGood.tv founder Stephen Vogelpohl told me in a phone interview. “The Current network really lines up with what we’re doing at SocialGood, (and) this is such a good opportunity that we couldn’t pass it up.”

Vogelpohl said the deal may involve relocating the San Francisco-based cable network to Austin, Tex., which is something that would likely benefit Austin’s growing technology and startup scene as well as other parts of the community. Also, the network’s programming would shy away from political commentary in favor of unbiased coverage of important issues.

Since the startup doesn’t have enough capital to purchase Current on its own, Vogelpohl reached out to a number of potential investors with experience closing deals of this size and are familiar with the media industry. And while many of the details are still being determined, Vogelpohl told me he’s spoken to around five different investors that account for about 80 percent of the funds needed to make an offer on the cable network. Investors would also be creating a brand new company that would push Current forward, rather than using the SocialGood.tv brand, he said.

Even if SocialGood.tv and its crop of investors are able to raise sufficient funds to make a formal offer on Current, they may not be the only potential buyer. While nothing has been officially expressed, Comcast/NBCUniversal or Disney/ABC News might have an interest in buying the ailing network.

It’s hard to say how much Current’s owners will ask for the network, which doesn’t have stellar ratings  Current is available in 60 million U.S. homes, and brought in an estimated $16.9 million in ad revenue in 2011, according to the NY Post.

Photo via MSNBC